The Muslim Quarter – Xi’an

Cities have defined areas that reflect the local culture of that particular bit of the city. Some of those areas become part of the definition of that city, e.g maybe Pike Place in Seattle, or Piccadilly in London. For Xi’an, the Muslim Quarter is that area that reflects and adds definition.

The Muslim Quarter has a long history in Xi’an, with Muslims living in Xi’an from 651 AD. Every street in the Muslim Quarter had, at one time, a mosque. Today there are still several mosques remaining, but the Cultural Revolution and current government practices have reduced the number still operating as mosques.

The small winding streets lead to hidden treasures – the street markets with anything for sale ranging from dried bull penis to live worms for fish feeding, from cheap tools to dodgy DVDs. Street dentists operate, along with sales of traditional medicines.

Earlier, farms filled in spaces that are now turned into modern housing and shopping centres reflecting China’s desire to be seen as a version of New York or Sydney.

Food is really important in the Muslim Quarter, with a mix of street food and restaurants offering snacks and meals. Bakeries, spice shops, tea shops and butchers fill the air with aromas. Dried fruit stalls, with wonderful grapes, dates, apricots, persimmons and tomatoes imported from Xinjiang in north-west China fill shops and bicycle carts.

Time spent wandering through the Muslim Quarter, sitting in the Great Mosque during call to prayer, eating street food and watching the local Muslim community mix with the Han Chinese and all the international tourists is stimulating.

The sense of community hasn’t disappeared despite all of the changes, and the city is richer for this added definition.

Posted by DeborahH

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